The Children’s Book Bank
is an award-winning local nonprofit that collects, cleans, sorts, and redistributes books to children in need. Run by a small, dedicated staff and a host of volunteers, the Children’s Book Bank has distributed over 650,000 books and counting to eager young readers in the Portland area. Today, we sit down with Program Manager Jessica Levay to talk about being seen and understood through the transformative act of reading.
Program Manager at The Children’s Book Bank
Where are you from originally?
The Bay Area in California
Last book you loved:
For adults: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
by Ocean Vuong
For kids: Born Ready
by Jodie Patterson
What makes for a good book in your eyes?
A book that makes me feel seen and understood will always stay with me after completion. As someone who is an avid reader and works in the children’s book world, I am on a constant search for children’s books that allow all children to feel seen and understood through reading and gives them that feeling I get when I’m following a character I relate to. Growing up half Filipino, there was not a single book in my home that reflected how I looked or how my family looked, and that was because books about kids like me simply weren’t out there. Sometimes I’ll pick up a book in the Children’s Book Bank warehouse and find out it’s about a Black transgender child, and become overwhelmed with joy about how far we’ve come in diversifying children’s literature. We still have a long way to go in ensuring every child grows up feeling seen in literature, but I am proud to be a part of the mission.
Why do you think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?
For me, it’s all about the sensory experience. Being able to wander through shelves, pick up titles to skim through, and select whatever draws me in is a better experience than typing a single title into a search box and buying it because it was recommended to me. I find this reflected with children as well. When The Children’s Book Bank hosts its free book fairs each summer, the level of excitement we see in kids getting to pick through hundreds of titles and select the ones that call out to them personally makes me confident that bookstores are here to stay for generations to come.
What’s one book you’ll never part with?
My childhood copy of Mama, Do You Love Me?
by Barbara M. Joosse. This was the first book I remember seeing with a child who looked similar to me. While this book is actually about an Inuit family and not a Filipino family like mine, the impression of seeing a brown child in a book I owned was powerful and has never left me. The longer I work in children’s books, the more I’ve come to love own-voice titles, where the culture and community being reflected is the culture and community of the author or illustrator. While I will always have a soft spot for Mama, Do You Love Me?
, I try to focus on supporting own-voice authors and illustrators as much as we can when purchasing inclusive children’s titles.
What’s your favorite part about working with The Children’s Book Bank?
The joy. We are so lucky to be able to serve every Head Start student in Multnomah County, as well as some awesome nonprofit partners, elementary, and middle schools, community health clinics, and more. Every time I participate in a book giveaway, or am sent a picture from our partners of a child cracking open a book from their book bundle, it is pure joy to witness. I always feel like I can see directly into the future of a lifelong reader, and someone who will love books as much as I do.
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Get involved with The Children’s Book Bank.